Book Cover
Title The Seas of Venus
Series ---
Author David Drake
Cover Art ---
Publisher Baen - 2004
First Printing 2002
Category Military Science Fiction
Warnings None

Main Characters

Johnnie Gordon, Dan Cooke, Brainard, Wilding, Caffey, Leaf

Main Elements Military SF

In a huge effort, humans terraformed Venus, increasing its reflectivity to reduce its heat absorption, introducing life, and finally introducing people. Just in time because human war created the galaxy's newest star and Venus was all that was left of humanity. The lessons of Earth weren't completely missed. Venus's domed cities (the land areas were considered too dangerous to settle) made plenty of war, but their warfare was limited, civilized, and conducted by professional mercenary companies. Cities who stepped outside of the rules of war could be quickly nuked a strong incentive toward cooperation. Of course, even 'civilized' warfare is still warfare and mankind's efforts were largely squandered in an entire world that is overrun with mutating and dangerous descendants of the species brought in by Earth's terraformers.

In two linked novellas, author David Drake explores the mercenaries who carry on the wars. In the first, Surface Action, Johnnie Gordon joins his mercenary-uncle Dan Cooke in an attempt to overcome a conspiracy of mercenary companies to preserve their way of life by preventing Johnnie's father from bringing about a peaceful union of Venus domed cities. With only Dan's mercenary company to protect the young alliance and with multiple opponents lining up, Johnnie's mercenary experience seems doomed. And that's before Dan comes up with a crazy idea involving a cross-country cutting out operation.

In The Jungle, two junior officers face their own failings after their boat is damaged. Each perceives the other as embodying all of the characteristics that they know they are missing themselves and each uses the other's example for inspiration, subtly living up to the other's misconceptions. But survival is only a part of the requirement. Because the Venus domed cities have themselves reached a critical situation. Somehow, men must reclaim the land while they still have the chance.

In Seas of Venus, David Drake sees the romance of war, but he doesn't let it seduce him. Even distant warfare conducted by professional mercenaries has its costs including the creation of a self-perpetuating and self-dooming system. The first story, Surface Action, is straightforward, with a twist ending. The Jungle is a continual twist as Drake gives us a deeper insight into the characters and into the world and society which spawned them. The non-linear time flow is occasionally confusing, but the storytelling works.

Seas of Venus, especially The Jungle, is military SF at its best. And Drake's story of a true-life voyage to the jungle of Belize is a nice bonus.

I got an eBook version free from the Baen website. Now I'll start with the caveat that I'm not usually into science fiction, especially military SF, but I do dabble in it from time to time. So as I read it bit by bit on my commute to work, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't just about a bunch of guys with too much testosterone shooting at each other. In fact while the battles do take up a fair amount of word real-estate, these stories to me were really about the characters.

First, the battles. Normally I can't follow battle scenes, doesn't matter if they are fantasy or SF, I'm just terrible at envisioning what's going on. And that was true for the most part here too. But I could not deny Drake's skill at describing what it was like to be in the battle. The sounds of the ship's engines, the force of the big gun's recoils, the smell, the sights and the experiences. War is dirty, there is very little that is glorious about it.

Now the characters. In Surface Action we are dealing with the son of a prominent member of society. He's young, he's green, and he wants to get involved in the action. His father is against it, having fought in a few battles himself before becoming a senator. His uncle on the other hand wants to give the boy a chance. You learn about the Venetian society, how the mercenaries are hired to fight the battles for the various settlements. And you realize you can never really be sure about who to trust, and that just because someone doesn't want to fight those battles with his hands, doesn't mean he isn't fighting battles of another sort.

The Jungle was equally good, though couldn't be more different. At first, as the book summary above described, it's a bit confusing. You have a scene in the present, then you get a flashback in the past for one of the characters. And this continuously alternates. Because I was reading this is small chunks, I must admit I missed out on key aspects that should have made the ending a bit more of a shocker than it was (probably took me nearly a month of reading this entire book in about 10 page chunks on a near daily basis, not because it was bad, but because that's the only time I use my eReader). But I really enjoyed how you got to see the backstories of each of the characters, and how some of the character's stories intertwined even when they didn't know each other. And my favorite part was how Brainard, low class worked his way up was in awe of Wilding, for all intents and purposes head of this family. He could do no wrong in Brainard's eyes, being so well educated, a born leader. Wilding of course is scared witless, feels out of his depth, that he's just some pampered kid with no experience...of course in his eyes Brainard knows his stuff, and is in complete and utter awe of this man who would risk his life to save his men (while in fact running to save his own skin then tripping on a root to fall on his face). I figured, know what? That's probably how most wars are fought and won. A bunch of guys, without a clue about what they are doing, and through some freak luck appear to have done something incredibly heroic. Of course had they died, they'd have been known for the coward/idiot/etc that they were. As they say, its the victor's that write the history books...

And the setting? I'm not convinced that if we colonized Venus we'd have insects the size of houses, but it's certainly an interesting world...and when it comes to the people, not all that different from our own. We certainly don't learn from our mistakes, that's for sure!

And it's true that the little bit at the end where the author describes his own trip to a south american jungle was very enjoyable.

I'd really like to read the book/story that insprired this one, if it's anything like Drake's I'm sure I'd enjoy it.

Posted: June 2014


Background, images and content (unless otherwise noted) are SunBlind
Do not use without permission.